Distributions of recorded pain in mental health records: a natural language processing based study

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Objective The objective of this study is to determine demographic and diagnostic distributions of physical pain recorded in clinical notes of a mental health electronic health records database by using natural language processing and examine the overlap in recorded physical pain between primary and secondary care.

Design, setting and participants The data were extracted from an anonymised version of the electronic health records of a large secondary mental healthcare provider serving a catchment of 1.3 million residents in south London. These included patients under active referral, aged 18+ at the index date of 1 July 2018 and having at least one clinical document (≥30 characters) between 1 July 2017 and 1 July 2019. This cohort was compared with linked primary care records from one of the four local government areas.

Outcome The primary outcome of interest was the presence of recorded physical pain within the clinical notes of the patients, not including psychological or metaphorical pain.

Results A total of 27 211 patients were retrieved. Of these, 52% (14,202) had narrative text containing relevant mentions of physical pain. Older patients (OR 1.17, 95% CI 1.15 to 1.19), females (OR 1.42, 95% CI 1.35 to 1.49), Asians (OR 1.30, 95% CI 1.16 to 1.45) or black (OR 1.49, 95% CI 1.40 to 1.59) ethnicities, living in deprived neighbourhoods (OR 1.64, 95% CI 1.55 to 1.73) showed higher odds of recorded pain. Patients with severe mental illnesses were found to be less likely to report pain (OR 0.43, 95% CI 0.41 to 0.46, p<0.001). 17% of the cohort from secondary care also had records from primary care.

Conclusion The findings of this study show sociodemographic and diagnostic differences in recorded pain. Specifically, lower documentation across certain groups indicates the need for better screening protocols and training on recognising varied pain presentations. Additionally, targeting improved detection of pain for minority and disadvantaged groups by care providers can promote health equity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2024


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